2nd Time Around, Council Votes Yes to School Construction Plan 

by | Feb 8, 2024

And changes to School Construction Committee made public

East Greenwich Town Council voted 4-0 Thursday night to approve the stage 2 plan of the $150 million school construction project. Councilmember Mike Donegan was absent.

“I’m optimistic and excited that the project we are doing, even if it is changed some during the engineering and architectural process, will meet the priority needs of our district,” said Town Council President Mark Schwager. He said that the project will address the overcrowding at the elementary schools and “make significant improvements at the high school.”

With the council and School Committee now both having voted in favor of the stage 2 application before the RIDE deadline of Feb. 15, the town maintains its eligibility for up to 20 percent in bonus state reimbursement money on top of the guaranteed 35 percent.

Councilmember Renu Engleheart mentioned being “very concerned about the cost” after Councilmember Mike Zarrella said, “I don’t think this project is going to come in budget.”

While Councilmember Caryn Corenthal agreed that “we’re probably not going to get everything we want,” she said that the end result will “certainly be an improvement.”

This vote of approval comes just 10 days after the council voted down the same proposal after learning about Supt. Brian Ricca’s “Request for Declaratory Order” letter to the Dept. of Education (RIDE) asking the state to weigh in on who has “ultimate control’ over the project.  

At a combined Town Council and School Committee meeting on Monday night, Town Council present Mark Schwager and School Committee Chair Alyson Powell made a joint statement stating that both bodies had agreed on the arrangement of oversight of the project.

The details were made public as part of next Monday’s Town Council meeting agenda. To view all of the changes made, click HERE.

One change in the ordinance draft states that the town manager and superintendent will co-chair the School Construction Committee (SCC), with the body now providing “input and oversight for the Town Council and School Committee relative to the Project.”

Another change to the ordinance states: “The SCC, in coordination with the Town Solicitor, shall negotiate any contract to be entered into by the Town and said firm(s) subject to approval of the Town Council, provided, however, that such contracts shall account for established School Committee policies regarding school access, educational concerns, and other such matters.”

Also, the makeup of the body was adapted to include the chair of the School Committee and the Town Council president. The change means that two School Committee and Town Council members will sit on the SCC instead of two council members and one from schools, as previously stipulated. Additionally, that School Committee member is to be selected by the School Committee, not the Town Council, as laid out in the original ordinance. 

This altered ordinance will be part of the public hearing portion of the Town Council’s next meeting at Town Hall on Monday, Feb. 12, at 7 p.m. The full agenda of that meeting can be found HERE.

Andrew Belfry covers EG schools and police for EG News. He lives in town with his wife and two children. Send him comments and tips at [email protected].

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February 8, 2024 10:06 pm

So … who controls the $150 million at this point? Seems like all the closed door meetings aren’t a great start to the whole “transparency thing.”

Renu Englehart
Renu Englehart
February 9, 2024 12:17 pm

Attached please find the bond as passed by the General Assembly. The bond language is clear as council’s control over the bond, however the school committee retains the right over the educational spaces and what goes into them. https://webserver.rilegislature.gov/BillText23/HouseText23/H6376.pdf

Nicole Bucka
Nicole Bucka
February 11, 2024 8:57 am
Reply to  Renu Englehart

Renu, the School Committee has worked hard to resolve this issue so we could move forward – together. However, it becomes challenging when you, as a town councilor, consistently revisit the past.

The bond act you continually reference has boiler plate language granting the town authority over bonds, with the flexibility to delegate or retain it. The issue arises when those decisions conflict with the responsibilities of School Committees (SCs), Superintendents (Supt.s), and relevant state regulations (Title 16 of the RIGL and RIDE regs regarding school building management). These laws emphasize SCs’ care and control of school buildings, granting daily authority to superintendents and building administrators. RIDE regs explicitly designate districts for MOA signing and housing aid application. When considering them collectively, the proposed TC structure appears to conflict with the overall intent of the school construction scheme. Since RIDE is over 50% of the funding, making sure the town’s authority respects those details is pretty important.

We have worked hard to move on, so please – either don’t reference the bond act or do so in a balanced way that illustrates both sides and promotes unity in our community.

Nicole Bucka
Nicole Bucka
February 11, 2024 10:23 am
Reply to  Nicole Bucka

Correction: change “appears” to “appeared” (past tense) as I am referencing the 1st iteration of proposed language. The new language, agreed upon by both sides, meets the requirements described here.

Peter Carney
Peter Carney
February 11, 2024 6:06 pm
Reply to  Nicole Bucka

It is fortunate that the School Committee has worked hard to resolve an issue that THE SCHOOL COMMITTEE created. Phew! We should all be thankful. This is another in a long line of examples that School Committee members simply cannot accept debate or dissent. They respond when it’s convenient, and dodge when it’s difficult. Hopefully the Town Council will remain focused on a balanced approach of what the school department needs and what is fiscally responsible during this enormous project. Because the building project is already 50% more expensive than what was presented to the public in April 2023, and taxpayers should be very concerned.


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